Del. to relocate hundreds of inmates to Penn. prison after deadly 2017 riot
"Until we're able to hire and retain COs, we're going to continue to have issues when it comes to safety and security," a CO union official said
By Randall Chase
DOVER, Del. — Hundreds of inmates from Delaware's maximum-security prison, the site of a deadly inmate uprising last year, will be transferred to Pennsylvania in an effort to reduce overtime for severely understaffed correctional officers, officials said Wednesday.
The head of the union representing Delaware correctional officers criticized the move, saying the department needs to commit to improving compensation and recruitment and retention of prison guards.
Department of Correction officials said they have entered into a two-year agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to accept up to 330 inmates from the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna. The agreement calls for Delaware to pay Pennsylvania $123 per inmate, per day, to house offenders who were sentenced in Delaware. DOC officials said the move would result in a savings of $8 per inmate, per day.
"Reducing mandatory overtime will provide relief for Delaware's correctional officers, and help make our facilities safer for officers and inmates," DOC Commissioner Perry Phelps said in a prepared statement.
Geoff Klopp, head of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware, characterized the move as a half-measure.
"This is just another Band-Aid on the situation," Klopp said. "It's a temporary fix. Until we're able to hire and retain correctional officers, we're going to continue to have issues when it comes to safety and security in the facilities."
All of the inmates selected for transfers will have more than five years remaining on their sentences and will return to Delaware to complete their sentences when the correctional officer vacancy rate is projected to be "significantly lower."
There are currently 237 vacancies statewide, according to prison officials. They did not specify what would constitute a "significantly lower" number.
The vacancy rate remains stubbornly high despite efforts taken after the February 2017 riot to boost correctional officer salaries and offer recruitment and signing bonuses. DOC officials say they have hired 130 cadets since the salary increase became effective in July.
A review ordered by Democratic Gov. John Carney after the riot found that the dismissal by DOC officials of warnings about trouble brewing was indicative of an overcrowded, understaffed facility plagued by mismanagement, poor communication, a culture of negativity, and adversarial relationships among prison staff, administrators and inmates.
"For years, excessive mandated overtime and fatigue ... inconsistent management ... the lack of communication, adversarial relationships, and a general lack of respect at all levels ... have contributed to poor correctional officer morale and increasing hostility between inmates and correctional officers," the review stated.
Carney noted that reducing mandatory overtime was among the report's key recommendations.
"We have heard loud and clear that the high levels of mandatory overtime in Delaware's prisons creates hardships for correctional officers and real security concerns inside our correctional facilities," he said in a prepared statement.
Wednesday's announcement comes amid the ongoing trial for three of the 18 inmates indicted on criminal charges after the riot. It also follows the filing of a class-action lawsuit last week on behalf of scores of inmates at the prison. The lawsuit alleges that they were subjected to inhumane conditions and physical and verbal abuse by guards both before and after the riot.
Sixteen inmates were charged with murder, kidnapping and other crimes following the riot, during which prison guard Steven Floyd was killed and three other staffers taken hostage. Two other inmates, including one who pleaded guilty to riot and is testifying for prosecutors, were not charged with murder. The defendants are scheduled to be tried in groups over the next several months.